Posted by: sean | January 8, 2010

Waiting for the barbarians: or, no soup for Mr. Murray

Matthew Yglesias points out a post from Charles Murray, in which he counts non-white faces in Paris:

I collected data as I walked along, counting people who looked like native French (which probably added in a few Brits and other Europeans) versus everyone else. I can’t vouch for the representativeness of the sample, but at about eight o’clock last night in the St. Denis area of Paris, it worked out to about 50-50, with the non-native French half consisting, in order of proportion, of African blacks, Middle-Eastern types, and East Asians. And on December 22, I don’t think a lot of them were tourists.

Mark Steyn and Christopher Caldwell have already explained this to the rest of the world—Europe as we have known it is about to disappear—but it was still a shock to see how rapid the change has been in just the last half-dozen years.

Yglesias tries to fisk him, pointing out that people from French overseas territories are black, that there are a lot of tourists in Paris and asking how can you be sure the person isn’t white anyway? Yglesias is right that Murray sure looks like a racist, but he’s wrong about Murray’s “data.” That’s the plural of anecdote, right?

First of all, Paris is full of non-white people, or people “with origins,” as it’s often put these days. France is also full of non-tourist foreigners, and these two things are not synonymous.  A few years ago, there was a movement to allow non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections in Paris (a right already allowed in some suburbs, like Saint Denis). Part of their campaign was an ad that showed that 1 out of every 7 Parisians were not French. Having been a non-French Parisian for the better part of a decade, that number seems about right to me.

So something like 15% of Parisians are not French. Now it’s impossible to know how many of those were white, and how many were not, and I’d be uncomfortable making a guess. And then we come to the French “with origins,” who are from North Africa, black Africa, southeast Asia, east Asia, the subcontinent, Latin America, wherever. These people are French, whether racists in the Front National or Charles Murray like it or not.

Last week, while I was in Paris, I went out for sushi with some friends. Had Murray counted us, he would have likely counted 2 for the “native French” and 2 for “non-native French.” He would have been wrong: Jean-Louis’s family is originally from Vietnam and Yazid’s family hails from Algeria, but they’re both as French as can be. Nicolas would have been counted as a “native French,” even though part of his family is originally from Belgium. I would have also been counted, although I’m neither French nor “native-French,” so actually, the only foreigner at the table would have been me.

When Murray speaks of “native French,” he’s mirroring the term of les français de souche, which literally means of French extraction or descent but in practice means white. So someone whose grandparents are Italian, Belgian or Spanish (or Hungarian in the case of Sarkozy) is generally considered to be “of French extraction” but someone whose grandparents were Vietnamese, Algerian or Congolese is usually not.

Also, neighborhoods count. There isn’t a neighborhood called St. Denis (unless Murray was in the banlieue, which I doubt). There’s a rue St. Denis that covers a fair amount of diverse ground and then there’s Strausbourg St. Denis, which has big Turkish and African areas.  And that’s the thing, different neighborhoods have different makeups, so it’s impossible to generalize one area to all of Paris and just as impossible to generalize Paris to the rest of France.  If he were to count faces in the Marais, he’d have seen a huge number of homosexuals and Jews; in Chinatown, lots of Asians; By Gare du Nord and Louis Blanc, lots of Indians and Pakistanis; by Rue de la Pompe, mostly rich white people.

This point should be obvious to anyone who’s ever lived in a big metropolitan city. Would it be a safe assumption to say that America is being overrun by hipsters because I spent three days counting skinny jeans and white belts in Williamsburg? Of course not. And the same goes for Paris.

So finally, I don’t doubt that Murray saw that 50% of the people on the street in a particular Parisian neighborhood weren’t white. I’ve looked up to in the subway in New York or the Métro in Paris to see that I was the only white face in the train. So what? The cultural and ethnic diversity of metropolitan cities is actually one of the things that I miss most living in Beirut. For xenophobes and racists like Murray, though, this is proof of an ominous takeover by sinister Muslims who hope to establish the Imperial Caliphate of Eurabia.

Personally, I think such people should be banned from ever eating in a Japanese, Mexican, Chinese or any other “non-native” restaurant as long as he lives, he should be doomed to the repetition of WASPy cuisine for the rest of his days. Or as a certain Seinfeld character would have it, no soup for you, Mr. Murray!



  1. Great article Sean! The last paragraph makes me think of Eric Clapton who once said in a concert: “Keep Britain white!”

    Aside from being racist, it’s pretty hypocritical since Clapton’s rise to fame lies in songs which have clear african and arab influences (namely who shot the sheriff and layla).

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